A woman in Gaza. Photo: Karl Schembri
A woman in Gaza. Photo: Karl Schembri

“I’ve been calling to advance a “civilian separation” program for years: [Israel will] stop providing electricity, water, fuel, food and all other products. Gaza will be demilitarized, no weapons, no missiles; there will be a border between Gaza and Israel; civilian contact will be maintained through the Rafah crossing, between Egypt and Gaza, or, by creating an island off the Gaza shore, with a seaport and an airport, under international security control and Israeli control over the sea. This plan would relieve us of legal responsibility for Gaza and enable a shift toward a policy of deterrence”. (Transportation Minister, Israel Katz (Hebrew)).

Minister Katz is not the first person to fantasize about separating from Gaza. The idea has been floating around for a long time, and different variations of it have been suggested by Members of Knesset, commentators and ordinary civilians – each taking it as far as his or her imagination allows. But reality bites and those who take a closer look realize that the ties between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Gaza’s connection to Israel, will not just magically vanish. Here are some facts:

Family ties:

  • Some 1.76 million people live in the Gaza Strip, and more than a quarter of them have relatives in the West Bank. About 15% have relatives in East Jerusalem or in Israel.
  • The same holds true for the opposite: hundreds of thousands of West Bank, Israeli and East Jerusalem residents have relatives in the Gaza Strip.
  • Before Operation Protective Edge, Israel allowed very limited movement of firs-degree relatives from Gaza to the West Bank, in “exceptional humanitarian cases” only. A policy plan that calls for the complete closure of the Gaza Strip will prevent hundreds of thousands of people from seeing their relatives, thus violating the rights of civilians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israel. 

The economy:

  • Gaza had extensive economic ties with Israel and the West Bank in the past and much remains of those ties to this today. Most of the goods that Gaza purchases come from Israel and some from the West Bank, but it is prohibited from selling anything to Israel or the West Bank.
  • In 2012, Israeli companies earned 1.3 billion NIS (about $380 million) selling products to Gaza. Since the closure of the Gaza-Egypt underground tunnels, this one-sided trade has only increased.
  • On Sunday, July 6, 2014, Israel began limiting the kinds of goods that could enter Gaza, allowing through only medicine, food and fuel. But, Israeli-made hummus, shampoo and cleaning products can still be found in Gaza’s markets.
  • Before 2007, that is, before the closure, 85% of Gaza goods sold outside the Strip were sold in Israel and the West Bank. According to Ahmad Shafi, head of the Gaza Cooperative Association for Produce and Marketing of Vegetables, “In the beginning of the previous decade, about 70,000 tons of vegetables from Gaza were sent to the Israeli market every year, and a similar amount to markets in the West Bank”.
  • The prohibition on the sale of Gaza-made goods in Israel and the West Bank is one of the main reasons behind Gaza’s economic collapse. While it is true that Gaza residents were able to export abroad prior to July 6, prohibitively high shipping costs and lack of business connections precluded meaningful profit to be found in export. Overall yearly export from Gaza is now at 2% of what it was prior to the closure. 

Single territorial unit

  • The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are widely recognized by the international community as a single territorial unit. Palestinians also view them as such, and Israel, too, recognized this unity in the Oslo Accords.
  • Most educational, health, cultural and administrative institutions make no distinction between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and are run under the Palestinian Authority (PA).
  • Israelcontrols the single Palestinian population registry shared by the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Any change in the registry – birth, marriage, divorce, death or change of address – requires Israeli approval. The population registry determines who is recognized as a Palestinian resident for the purpose of receiving travel documents and permits and coordination on these issues is done between PA representatives in the Gaza Strip and Israeli representatives.
  • In other words, despite the political divide between Hamas and Fatah, PA representatives are still present in the Gaza Strip, and Israel still recognizes their authority to handle the affairs of Palestinian residents.
  • PA representatives are still an inseparable part of civilian life in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s electricity company bills (Hebrew) the PA (payment is made in the form of deductions from indirect taxes collected by Israel).
  • PA representatives stationed in Gaza are an inseparable part of coordination that takes place with respect to movement into and out of Gaza by both people and goods.

The law

  • Israel bears responsibilities toward the Gaza Strip both as a result of international humanitarian law and human rights law, and as a result of the fact that Israel controls the connection Gaza residents might have with the West Bank. Gisha’s legal position is detailed in this report.